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Critical Thinking Separating Fact From Fiction
What will be covered today? • Part 1: What is critical thinking and why do we need to do it? • Part 2: How to assess an argument. • Part 3: How to write a critical essay.
What Is Critical Thinking?
Part 1 Overview • Why we need to approach even faith-filled Christian scholars critically. • Why we need to train ourselves to be logical. • What is critical thinking? • Why it’s not insulting to analyse the arguments of even the best scholars.
First: Don’t Panic • Critical thinking is not difficult, it’s just not normal. • We like to think we’re naturally logical, but we’re not. • The Confirmation Bias • All humans naturally give more weight to evidence/arguments they already agree with. • Eg. Horoscopes: Everything that happens to the person on that day confirms the horoscope to be correct, anything against it is irrelevant.
• Problem with this bias for theological studies? • We will naturally accept the scholars’ arguments that confirm the belief we already have.
What is Critical Thinking • What is critical thinking? • Not responding emotional, but analysing whether the claim is sufficiently supported - regardless of whether you agree or not.
• How is it done? • First, by identifying the different parts within an argument (discussed in the next part). • Then, by assessing whether these parts provide sufficient support for the conclusion reached.
It’s Not Insulting • Many new scholars and those from other cultures think it is insulting/arrogant to question more experienced scholars. • However, Even the best are sometimes wrong. • Eg. Moses: spoke face to face with God. However, he was kept out of the promised land for hitting the rock to get water when this wasn’t God’s command. • Eg. Peter: trained by Christ, leader of the Church. However, he was rebuked by God for not accepting what God had called clean, and then by Paul for not eating with Gentiles.
Summary • We need to learn to think critically because we don’t do it naturally. • Critical thinking is about putting aside our natural emotional response to an argument to see if it is logically valid. • It is not arrogant to be critical of a scholar because everyone is wrong at some stage.
How To Critically Assess an Argument
Part 2 Overview • This section will cover: • The parts that make up an argument. • Where arguments can go wrong.
• A biblical example of critical thinking.
What is an argument? 1. Claim (conclusion, contention, argument). • This is a statement that needs to be proved before it is accepted.
2. Grounds (support, evidence) • Material that convinces the reader that the claim is true. It is usually undisputed information (or can be further supported).
3. Warrant (justification, logical connection) • The warrant is the link between the grounds and the claim, it explains how the grounds supports the claim. • It can be unspoken/implied if generally accepted.
What is an argument? For Example: 1. Claim: Richard Gibson is a great teacher. 2. Grounds: Last year his students all received high distinctions. 3. Warrant (Linking Logic): Students with a good teacher get higher marks.
Separating Evidence From Proposition When analysing an argument: First separate out the three sections; claim, grounds, warrant. Then question each part.
• Claim: the debatable part. • do you agree with it completely, in part, or not at all? • In an essay, you need to show you understand it is a claim, not evidence. • You should never put a scholar’s claim into your essay without commenting on whether you think it is valid.
Separating Evidence From Proposition • Grounds: Undisputed. • It can be primary source material, a claim you’ve already demonstrated, or secondary source material. • It should be beyond debate, but can be questioned as to how the scholar has interpreted it or how it has been applied. • When writing an essay, it is possible to use someone else’s grounds to support your own claim.
Separating Evidence From Proposition • Warrant: often unstated • Warrant can be based on logic or an accepted belief/assumption. • These assumptions can be wrong. • Assumption: Christ was not God. • Claim: The Gospels were the creation of later Christians.
• Evidence: They state Christ brought someone back from the dead. • Warrant: (Christ is not God) No one but God can raise the dead, therefore the Gospels are not a true account of the life of Jesus.
• Identifying unspoken assumptions is difficult, but necessary. So always work out how they’re connecting the grounds to the claim.
Test Yourself Read through the following text, and see if you can identify the claims (it is a two part argument), the evidence, and the warrant. Weinfeld, M. 1970. pp. 185-187. (cut and paraphrased) The covenant with Abraham and David belong to the ANE grant type of agreement, and not to the vassal type at Sinai. They both bestow gifts upon individuals who have been loyal in serving their masters. Abraham is promised the land because he obeyed God and followed his mandate (Gen. 26:5) Similarly, David is promised a dynasty because of his righteousness and loyalty (1Kings 3:6) The terminology is very close to the Assyrian grant of Ashurbanipal to his servant Baltya, which states: ‘Baltya…whose heart is devoted with truthfulness, acted perfectly in my palace.’ (Further evidence given about connection) “In the light of all this we may properly understand Ps 132:1 which the Septuagint… mistranslated as ‘his humility’, has to be understood as “his submissiveness or devotion.”
Deconstruction • Claim 1: Abrahamic and Davidic covenants are similar to ANE grants, not vassal treaties. • Grounds: Primary Sources - OT and ANE text. • Warrant: Both are based on devotion/submission, so they are the same type. • Unspoken claim: therefore, all similar covenants must be based on devotion/submission.
• Claim 2: Psalm 132:1 should be translated as ‘submissiveness’ instead of ‘humility’. • Grounds: (previous claim): A&D C are grant covenants. • Warrant: Psalm 132:1 is part of the Davidic covenant.
To Accept An Argument • To agree with the claim we must: • • • •
Agree the evidence is appropriate to claim. Agree the evidence is interpreted correctly. Agree with the assumption of warrant. Agree with the application of warrant.
Agree With Weinfield? • Do we do that here? • Evidence: Relevant and most likely correctly interpreted. • But what about warrant: • Assumption 1: Grant covenants must always use this wording. • Is this generally accepted?
• Assumption 2: Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants are purely grant covenants and do not draw on any vassal treaty wording. • Is there evidence for this?
• Assumption 3: Psalm 132:1 is referring to the Davidic Covenant. • Could this be debated?
Different Ways Arguments Can Be Wrong. • Even if you agree with the end conclusion, that doesn’t mean the argument is sound. • Possible problems include: • • • •
Bad evidence Good evidence but incorrectly interpreted Good evidence and interpretation, but wrong warrant. No warrant.
Problems 1.Claim you agree with – bad evidence • Conclusion: We must sell the church. • Evidence: I had a dream last night and God said to. • Warrant: (unspoken) My dreams are the infallible Word of God, therefore you must do what they say.
• Bad evidence requires an unsound warrant to support it. Identify what the warrant is exactly, and you’ll often see the problem with the evidence.
Problems 1.Claim you agree with – good evidence – badly interpreted (sadly, this was a real sermon). • Claim: Don’t have sex before marriage. • Evidence: Gen.8:6-11 Noah sending out the raven and the dove. • The evidence is sound – using the Bible to support a moral argument is appropriate.
• Interpretation: When Noah sent out the raven, it didn’t return because it was lured away by the ‘temptations of the flesh’.
Problems • Claim you agree with – good evidence – correctly interpreted – bad warrant. • Claim: The biblical stories are a collection of myths. • Evidence: They record people rising from the dead, the sun standing still, and seas parting. • Warrant: Miracles cannot happen. Therefore, these stories can’t be true.
Problems Claims you agree with – no warrant. • Claim: You should eat your vegetables. • Grounds: There are starving children in Africa.
• There is no warrant that can connect evidence of starving children in Africa to the claim you should eat your vegetables.
Test Yourself Read the following argument (can you pick who used it?), and see if you can find any problems. • Claim: Christ is not the same as God the Father. • Grounds: Jn 14:28: [Jesus speaking] “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.’ • Warrant: If one is greater, the other must be lesser. Therefore, Christ is lower than the Father.
Test Yourself Claim: Christ is not the same as God. • Problem? • Translation: what does Christ mean by ‘greater’ here? • Context: what context was the statement made? • Conclusion: can the warrant and claim be maintained when looking at all other passages in the Bible? • Unless you work on the assumption that the Bible cannot be read as a whole, all warrants and claims should be consistent in similar contexts.
Test Yourself For those interested – it was one of the supports for the Arian Heresy. The entire argument that Christ is not God was defeated by a piece of logic, rather than trying to rebut each of the Arians’ arguments: • Claim: Jesus is God. • Grounds: Jesus forgave sins. • Warrant: Only God can forgive sins.
Sometimes it is easier to build your own solid case than try to knock another’s down piece by piece.
God Loves Critical Thinking • Mark 7:9-13. – Jesus critically assesses the Pharisees’ argument • Claim: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!” • Grounds: • Moses said to honour your father and mother. • You say if anyone declares what might have been used to help their parents is Corban, then you no longer let them do anything for their parents.
• Warrant: • “Thus you nullify the word of God by your traditions that you have handed down.”
Part 2 Summary • What are the parts of an argument? • Claim, Grounds, Warrant.
• Where arguments can go wrong: • • • •
Bad evidence Good evidence but incorrectly interpreted Good evidence and interpretation, but wrong warrant. No warrant.
• Biblical Example of Critical Thinking. • Jesus and the Pharisees.
Part 3. How To Write Critically • Types of evidence and how to use them. • The point of writing essays. • Using the parts of an argument as essay structure.
Types of Evidence • Primary sources: • an authentic account from the time or facts. • Eg. Statistics, interviews, personal accounts (eg. Diaries), records from the time (eg. The Bible).
• Interpretation and use can be questioned, but not the information itself. • Eg. If you accept the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, you can question my interpretation of a verse, but not the verse itself.
• Primary source material is much stronger than secondary, but needs more interpretation.
Types of Evidence • Secondary sources: • Information that has already interpreted by someone else; they are claims that have been supported, not facts in themselves. • Scholarly articles, webpages, books etc. • As they are claims, if the support is weak they may not be valid. • Therefore, all claims from secondary sources need to analysed.
Both primary and secondary sources can be used to support your own claim, it is just a matter of how you use them and how much weight you give them.
The Point Of Writing Essays • Remember that we want you to be scholars, not encyclopedias. • Anyone can look up facts/arguments on the internet. • But they usually accept claims they already agree with.
• The church needs leaders who can assess whether the arguments are correct, and then teach Christians why certain claims are not justified.
• Therefore, essays are to prove you can dissect others’ arguments and build your own. • Essays may seem academic and not useful in ministry, but it is essential to be able to see through deception and emotional responses.
Quoting Scholars • In 99% of cases, scholars are secondary sources. • Even the old ones.
• Why do we want you to summarise, not quote, scholars? • First, because to quote all their claim, grounds, warrant would be way too long. • Second, if you only quote it doesn’t show you understand.
• When to use quotes? • If it is a short, beautiful summary of the claim. • If it a clear, short summary of the evidence you also want to us.
Quoting Scholars • However, remember that scholars’ arguments are not your arguments. • You only use them as grounds (evidence), or counter arguments. • Therefore, you must always start the paragraph with your claim. • That claim maybe: Smith’s argument that Christ is not God is not justified.
• Then you use the scholar. • And finally, unless it is very obvious, you need to put in your warrant – why this evidence supports your claim. • You should try to never finish a paragraph on a quote, because you haven’t linked it back to your topic.
Overall Essay Structure Overall essay structure looks simple, but each part has a very important role.
• Elements of the Introduction: • Hook: gets the reader interested in what you have to say, and tell them why your topic is important. Should be only a sentence or two. • Debate background: tells the reader why this is a debated topic, what some of the past views are, and who some of the important figures are. • Overall claim: this is your direct answer to the topic, which the rest of the essay will then prove. It should one to two sentences. • Overview of individual claims: each paragraph will have its own claim, each of which is a piece of evidence for the overall claim. Here you summarise the paragraphs’ claims, but do not discuss any of the evidence for those individual claims.
Overall Essay Structure Elements Of A Paragraph: T-E-E-L • Each paragraph is its own argument, with a claim that supports overall claim. • Topic Sentence/Claim: States the paragraph’s individual claim (and usually how it supports overall claim.) • [If necessary, next evaluate any counter claims – the arguments against your claim, which you need to demonstrate are invalid before continuing.] • Evidence/Grounds: Provides grounds for individual claim. Can be either primary or secondary sources. • Explanation/warrant: demonstrates the link between the evidence you’ve just detailed and the claims of the paragraph. • Linking sentence – warrant for overall claim: shows the link between the claim of this paragraph to the overall claim.
• Keep in mind – if a paragraph does not have an individual claim and/or does not directly support the overall claim, don’t use it. • Eg. Background/life story information is not an argument, so unless it is evidence for a claim, don’t waste words on it.
Overall Essay Structure Elements of the Conclusion: • While the introduction leads the reader into the issues involved and suggests the evidence you will present, the conclusion is the firm statement of how you’ve demonstrated your claim is true. • The conclusion is a review of the evidence you’ve provided, and the warrants you have used to link these piece of evidence to the claim. • It is not just a reworded introduction. • The introduction only outlines the other claims. It does not detail the evidence for each claim or the warrant that links these back to your overall claim.
• It finally restates the overall claim you have demonstrated, and leaves the reader with a thought about the implications of that claim. Essay structure is an hour glass: the introduction takes the reader from their general thoughts and guides them into the specific topic, while the conclusion takes them from the specific topic and guides them back out into thinking about how this affects their general thoughts.
Overall Summary • Critical thinking is the ability to decide if an argument is supported, not whether we agree with the conclusion. • It requires removing emotion to look at the facts. This helps us to see truth under personal bias. • Essays practice deconstructing the arguments of others and building our own critical arguments. • Therefore, essays should always include a claim (which we put first), the grounds (each paragraph being an individual piece of evidence), and the warrant.
Take Away Critical thinking: 1. Identify the parts of the argument. 2. Assess whether these provide sufficient support for the claim.
References • Weinfeld, M. 1970. ‘The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East,’ Journal of the American Oriental Society, 184-203.